Cajun History

Acadian Reminiscences – Chapter 2

 

Acadian Reminiscences
by Felix Voorhies, 1907

 

The Acadian Reminiscences, is a word painting of the life of the Acadians in the Teche Country in the long ago.

 

The plain, simple frugal life of these people, their devotion to principle, their unbounded faith in the goodness of God, their love for each other during all their misfortunes and perilous wanderings, appeal to the heart.

 

The simple pathos of the grandmother’s story comes to us with such consummate art, that the eye unwittingly grows moist, as the reader follows the journeyings of this little band, self-exiled and noble in their poverty, from desolated homes on the bleak Acadian coast, to their final destination in the hospitable valley of the Teche.


 

 

Chapter 2 – My Grandmother’s Narrative:
She Depicts Acadian Manners and Customs

 

“Petiots,” she said, “my native land is situated far, far away, up north, and you would have to walk during many months to reach it; you would have to cross rivers deep and wide, go over mountains looming up thousands of feet, and beneath impending rocks, shadowing yawning valleys; you would have to travel day and night, in endless forests, among hostile Indians, seeking an opportunity to waylay and murder you.”

“My native land is called Acadia.  It is a cold and desolate region during winter, and snow covers the ground during several months of the year.  It is rocky, and huge rugged stones lie strewn over the surface of the ground in many places, and one must struggle hard for a livelihood there, especially with the poor and meager tools possessed by my people.  My country is not like yours, diversified by rolling and gentle hills, covered the year round with a thick carpet of green grass, and where every plant sprouts up and grows to maturity as if by magic, and where one may enrich himself easily, provided he fears God and is laborious and economical.  Yet I grieve for my native land, with its rocks and snows, because I have left there a part of my heart in the graves of those I loved so well and who sleep under its sod.”

And as she spoke thus, her eyes streamed with tears and emotion choked her utterance.

“I have promised to give you an insight into the manners and customs of your Acadian ancestors, and to tell you how it was that we left our country as exiles to emigrate to Louisiana.  I now keep my promise, and will relate to you all that I know of our sad history:

“You must know, petiots, that less than a hundred years ago Acadia was a French Province, whose people lived contented and happy.  The king of France sent brave officers to govern the province, and these officers treated us with the greatest kindness; they were our arbiters and adjusted all our differences, and so equitable were their decisions, that they proved satisfactory to all.  Is it strange, then, that being thus situated we prospered and lived contented and happy?  Little did we then dream of what cruel fate had in store for us.

“Our manner of living in Acadia was peculiar, the people forming, as it were, one single family.  The province was divided into districts inhabited by a certain number of families, among which the government parceled out the land in tracts sufficiently large for their needs.  Those families grouping together formed small villages, or posts, under the administration of commandants.  No one was allowed to lead a life of idleness, or to be a worthless member of the province.  The child worked as soon as he was old enough to do so, and he worked until old age unfitted him for toil.  The men tended the flocks and tilled the land, and while they plowed the fields, the boys followed them step by step, goading on the work-oxen.  The wives and daughters attended to the household work, and spun the wool and cotton which they wove and manufactured into cloth with which to clothe the family.  The old people not over active and strong, like your grandmother,” she would add with a smile, “together with the infirm and invalids, braided the straw with which we manufactured our hats; so that you see, petiots, we had not drones, no useless loungers in our villages, and every one lived the better for it.

“The land allotted to each district was divided into two unequal parts; the larger portion was set apart as the tillage ground, and then parceled out among the different families; and yet the clashing of interests, resulting from that community of rights, never stirred up any contentions among your Acadian ancestors.

“Although poor, they were honest and industrious, and they lived contented with what little they had, without envying their neighbors, and how could it be otherwise?  If any one was unable to do his field work because of illness, or of some other misfortune, his neighbors flew to his assistance, and it required but a few days’ work, with their combined efforts to weed his field and save his crop.

“Thus it was that, incited by noble and generous feeling, the inhabitants of the province seemed to form one single family, and not a community composed of separate families.

“These details, petiots, are tedious to you, and you would rather that I should tell you stories more amusing and captivating.”

“No, grandmother, we feel more and more interested in your narrative.  Speak to us of Acadia, your native land, which we already love for your sake.”

“Petiots”, she said, “I love my Acadia, and you will learn to love it also, when you shall have been made acquainted with the worth of its honest and noble inhabitants; besides,” added she, with a sad smile, “the gloomy and somber part of my story remains to be told.  When you shall have listened to it, you will then understand why it is that I feel sad and weep, when the remembrances of the past come crowding in my heart.  But to resume:  contiguous to the village ground lay the pasture grounds, well fenced in, and which were known as the common.  In these grounds, the cattle of the colonists were kept, and thus secured in that safe enclosure, our herds increased every year.  Thus you see, petiots, we lacked none of the comforts of life, and although not wealthy, we were not in want, as our wishes were few and easily satisfied.

“Plainness and simplicity of manners are the mainsprings of happiness, and he that wishes for what he may never have or acquire, must be miserable, indeed, and worthy of pity.  Alas! That this simplicity of our Acadian manners should have already degenerated into extravagance and folly!  Ah! the Acadians are losing, by degrees, the remembrance of the traditions and customs of the mother country; the love of gold has implanted itself in their hearts, and this will bring no happiness to them.  Ere you live to be as old as I,” she would say shaking her head mournfully, “you will find out that your grandmother is right in her prediction.

“In Acadia, as we prized temperance, sobriety and simplicity of manners more than riches, early marriages were highly favored.  Early marriages foster the virtues which give to man the only true happiness, and from which he derives health and longevity.

“No obstacle was thrown in the way of a loving couple who desired to marry.  The lover accepted by the maiden obtained the ready consent of the parents, and no one dreamed of inquiring whether the lover was a man of means, or whether the destined bride brought a handsome dowry, as we are wont to do nowadays.  Their mutual choice proved satisfactory to all; and, indeed, who better than they could mate their hearts, when they alone were staking their happiness on the venture? and, besides, it is not often that marriages founded on mutual love turn out badly.

“The bans were published in the village church, and the old curate, after admonishing them of the sacredness of the tie that bound them forever, blesses their union, while the holy sacrifice of mass was being said.  Petiots, it is useless for me to describe the marriage ceremony and the rejoicings attending the nuptials, as you have witnessed the like here, but I will speak to you of an old Acadian custom which prevails no more among us, one which we no longer observe.

“As soon as the marriage of a young couple was determined, the men of the village, after having built a cozy little home for them, cleared and planted the land parceled out to them; and while they so generously extended their aid and assistance, the women were not laggards in their kindness to the bride.  To her they made presents of what they deemed most necessary for the comfort and utility of her household, and all this was done and given with honest and willing hearts.

“Everything was orderly and neat in the home of the happy couple, and after the marriage ceremony in the church and the wedding feast at the home of the bride’s father, the happy couple were escorted to their new home by the young men and the young maidens of the village.  How genial was the joy that warmed our hearts and brightened our souls on these occasions; how noisy and light the gaiety of the young people; how unalloyed their merriment and happiness!